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A few years ago, NYVC Sports was launched with the support of representatives from every professional sports league in the US. Cofounders Jeff Volk from MLB Advanced Media and Deepen Parikh from Interplay Ventures wanted to bring together entrepreneurs within the New York community to help drive innovation in sports.
Last night, I participated in an NYVC Sports panel that symbolizes the recognition of the most innovative entrant to the sports landscape, eSports. Rod Breslau (@Slasher), former professional gamer turned reporter, led a panel including representatives from ESL Gaming, which sellouts stadiums all over the world for competitive gaming tournaments, Major League Gaming, the longest running eSports league in North America, and Twitch, the dominant video portal for gaming content with over 100M monthly uniques, which was bought by Amazon for $1 billion last year. Below are some of the highlights from the panel.
eSports Dominates Online Video
The panel shared some incredible stats on this emerging industry. Vice recently produced an enlightening series on eSports around the biggest competitive gaming tournament, the League of Legends World Championship. The event has drawn as many as 32 million viewers. Compare that to 26 million for the BCS National Championship and Game 7 of the NBA Finals, 16 million for the Final Four, and 15 million for the World Series (source: Qwilt). Large competitive gaming tournaments are being held in stadiums all over the world and selling out to tens of thousands of attendees in minutes, with millions more that watch online.
Sports remains one of the best content formats for advertising given the value of live programming, and eSports is far and away the most watched sports category online, where the most valuable demos have been shifting their consumption. According to Qwilt, Twitch is the largest live streaming site in the US, generating a staggering 44% of all live streaming traffic, vs. 7.2% by MLBAM and 6.3% by ESPN.
Traditional Sports Culture with a Social Edge
Just like any other major sport, eSports has players, teams, coaches, leagues, commentators, and crazy fans, especially in Asia. Gaming has already begun to escape nerd stigma in Asian markets, where screaming fans, guys and girls alike, proudly wear team paraphernila and line up for photos with the pro players and cosplay characters, the cheerleader equivalent for eSports. Star teams and players build massive followings across highly social channels. Accessibility, including the ability to chat with players as they are effectively on the field of play, is giving eSports professionals the same kind of intimate edge that Youtube celebrities enjoy over their Hollywood counterparts. Fans can't connect with LeBron James or Ronaldo in the same way they can with eSports stars.
Content Rights are in the Wild West Stage
There is no clear leader amongst the eSports leagues. Just as in the evolution of other professional sports, the landscape is fragmented, with emerging teams and players looking to protect their rights, and publishers looking to maximize the value of their IP. eSports today is still dominated by hard core games that take players into fantasy worlds. Traditional sports games and more casual categories have yet to emerge but that is likely to change over time. Some of the leading hard core game publishers, many of which have tens of millions of users, have recognized the value of competitive gaming and are emphasizing eSports, often with the help of partners who specialize in live events. The lack of clarity around player and publisher rights is likely to drive consolidation of power over the long term with massive value creation for the industry participants that come out on top.
With an enormous and rapidly growing audience for gaming video online, it is clear that significant advertising budgets will shift into this category over the long term. Twitch has the dominant portal today but faces plenty of competition, including Youtube, which is rumored to be making a big push into live streaming with gaming at the core. There are a slew of other players including Major League Gaming, Unity's Everyplay, Azubu, and a number of newer, mobile-first portals.
Additional business opportunities that are emerging, as they did for other sports in their nascency, include merchandising (both physical and digital), amateur leagues, fantasy, and gambling.
There is no longer a question as to whether eSports is a viable sports category. The only question is how big can it be?
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I've been actively testing out smartwatches across platforms for the past year. The form factor has begun to evolve to meet standards for vanity, but we're clearly still a ways off from early majority adoption. We are waiting for must have apps. While I expect those to arrive soon, the more I use these watches, the more it feels like notifications are the killer use case.
The vast majority of my smartwatch interaction is via notifications, which deliver a simple message, often with a single tap response. Rarely am I going into applications and scrolling through content. If I have five minutes to kill, I'm still pulling out my phone. Smartwatches are more about glanceable content consumption and quick feedback.
Here are my most frequent use cases, with the simple response functions:
- Watch (obviously)
- Alarm Clock
- Caller ID
- Dismiss (sends to voicemail)
- Dismiss but send back a prepopulated text, e.g. "Is it an emergency?"
- Answer, pull out my phone to talk
- View a text message
- Dismiss (marks message read)
- Send back a prepopulated text, e.g. "OK"
- View a calendar invite
That collective functionality is hardly a reason to pay a few hundred bucks or more for a smartwatch. However, there are other apps I've installed that don't have simple notifications but could be highly valuable if they did. ESPN could alert me about key moments in a game from my favorite teams. Instagram could show me a photo that a bunch of my friends have favorited in the past few hours. Nuzzel could share a headline for a story that many of my contacts have engaged with in the past hour. Twitter has started to surface notifications for trending topics or tweets, but I'd like to see even smarter notifications with more user control to define them.
You could leverage time of day and location as additional context for surfacing relevant notifications. As I walk out of my office, if it's early evening, my watch could ask if I'd like to send a text to my wife letting her know I'm on the way home with an ETA. If it's early morning just before work, my weather app could ping me if it's going to rain. If my calendar shows a meeting that's fifteen minutes away by car, it could ask me if I want an Uber ordered twenty minutes before the meeting.
As smartwatches gain broader adoption, I imagine more app developers will focus on glanceable notifications with simple responses. In the interim, I'd love to see a next gen Boxcar, a beautifully designed push notification platform that had its heyday in the early years of the iPhone. Their app platform allowed you to customize push notifications to the phone from key services like email, Facebook and Twitter. I would love to find a wrist-first push notification platform.
Thanks to @MattHartmann from Betaworks for sparking this conversation.